Why Books Are Losing

I am no big fan of DRM*

When I buy an MP3 from Amazon, I can transfer it to another computer, my Kindle, an MP3 player or Burn a CD all by just copying the file from one place to another. I don’t have to re-download it, or even be connected to the internet.

Not so for most eBooks. A book I own from Amazon may be able to be read on applications like Kindle for PC, Kindle Cloud Reader, my Kindle Touch, Fire, or even my Android tablet. But the book downloaded to each device is different, and only works on that device. I can’t download a book to my PC and then copy it to my Touch.

That’s DRM for you.

Peter Brantley, blogging for Publisher’s Weekly, goes one further. In a nutshell he compares the existing movie and TV distribution networks, that started with a narrow win for VHS as a legal format, and ends with services like Netflix or Amazon Video to the current eBook distribution model. Furthermore, he makes the case that time spent watching TV or movies is time spent NOT reading books and that if publishers want to increase their revenue streams the same way the film industry has, they need to think about the next “Netflix for Books” or something.

For me anyway books lose to TV sometimes not because of the inconveniences and restrictions of getting them, but because they fail the most American of goals, multi-tasking.

I don’t JUST watch TV. I’m not a part of the generation who tweets about a show while I’m watching, but I am the kind who has a netbook out, or even just a drawer to organize, something to do besides watching TV. This is a value I think I got from my Mom, who certainly likes some shows, but generally is looking for something to do while watching them.

Reading is like watching Anime for me. I used to watch a lot more Anime in college, when (I felt) I had time for simply watching something, because watching sub-titled anime involves a lot of reading, and a lot less time for multi-tasking. Audiobooks, or having my Touch read to me, allows for some multi-tasking, but generally I miss things unless the task I’m doing is pretty mundane. I can’t listen to non-fiction books, for instance, unless all I’m doing is either driving, or drawing images for work. Fiction’s a little easier to multi-task to, but I still feel like I’m missing something.

I think it’s this more than access that’s doing publishers a disservice and I’m not as sure how to fix it. From a technical view, video may be more available but it is not easier from a DRM perspective. Video DRM is very restrictive, often to the point of being tied to a certain device (which for anyone who’s owned a laptop longer than a few years can be a dicey prospect). And I have great access to free eBooks services from my library, tons of mysteries and non-fiction books to keep me entertained and enlightened without spending a penny.

It’s not access, but time that needs to change. One of the joys of being sick (one of the few anyway), was to have some unfettered time to read. But the truth is, I can make that time if I really want to. Not that I don’t think publishers should innovate, and be a little less paranoid with the DRM. I just don’t think it’s the reason we’re watching more TV.

TV is easier, and it doesn’t demand much from us, most of the time anyway. That’s why we like it.

*Digital Rights Management or how publishers attempt to prevent eBooks or other materials from being pirated, and keep them tethered to a single device or vendor


Filed under Books + Publishing

3 responses to “Why Books Are Losing

  1. ~meredith

    I never thought of reading as a multi-tasking option. Maybe that’s why the book industry is tanking.
    This is a very interesting perspective to read from a writer. Thank you. Meredith

  2. Great post Ben. Libraries are the closest thing to Netflix for books. IVP sells its books DRM free. Might be interesting to see if other publishers offer this directly. BTW, I’m posting some stuff on publishing trends this week (pre-scheduled). Great to see you writing again and hopefully feeling better.

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